This Chanukah was tinged with great sadness because of the tragedy of Israel’s terrible fire in the Carmel forest. With 42 people dead, and so much destruction in the wake of the swiftly moving flames, Chanukah has been marked by worry and mourning. Our hearts go out to those who have lost family members and friends. Our hearts go out to Israel in this time of sadness.

Israel is a tiny country whose people often describe it as a “small town” kind of country, where everyone “knows everyone,” somehow. Of course, that is not literally the case, but it is surely true that everyone feels impacted by tragic events such as this loss, and it feels very close to home. Only Israelis know how it feels. Yet, we their friends all over the world, are holding them close in our hearts, as we have on so many somber days before this.

One clear distinction exists between this disaster and so many that have previously befallen our Israeli brothers and sisters – this time parts of the Arab world, Turkey, the Palestinian authority, and European countries gave assistance in fighting the fire. Israel’s crisis became an international concern.

Who is a friend and who is an adversary? Sometimes the line is blurry; sometimes it is unnecessary. We are all human beings and we all experience pain and loss, sorrow and joy. Empathy for the other goes a long way toward peaceful coexistence.

The story of the Maccabees and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BCE is a great source of Jewish pride. Chanukah is all about rededicating our selves to our Jewish lives – to the Jewish people and to the heritage of Jewish living. It is the quintessentially particularlist holiday.

Yet, today’s world is more complicated than that of our ancestors in ancient Israel. Today, mutual friendship and empathy must be an essential way of being if we want to live in peace with our neighbors.

I, for one, am very grateful to know that those who are most often viewed as our adversaries or enemies extended friendship to Israel in a time of great need. I hope this signals new beginnings — that we can all learn to live in peace with each other.

It’s like the prophet Zechariah said, “Not by might and not by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord.”

Hag Urim Sameah,
May your Chanukah be filled with light and joy.